Shivniwas

Rangan Datta ( www.rangan-datta.info)


Legend:

Legend says that Lord Shiva appeared before Maharaja Krishnachandra (the king of Nadia) in his dream, and told him that he was shifting his base from Kasi to his capital. So in order to please the Lord the Maharaja set up his new capital at Shivniwas, and constructed 108 (although historians have doubt about the figure) temples in his honour.

History:

But Historians have come up with a more rational explanation. They say that in the middle of the eighteen century Maharaja Krishnachandra in order to save his capital Krishnanagar from the invading Marathas (Bargis) shifted it to Shivniwas, which was surrounded on three sides by the Churni River, thus providing a natural protection from the invaders. After shifting his capital the Maharaja christened it Shivniwas, probably after the Lord himself. However some historians claim that it was named after his son Shiva Chandra.

Cultural Development:

During the reign of Maharaja Krishnachandra (1728-1782) Bengal went through a phase of huge cultural revolution. His knowledge, education and culture have given him a unique place in the cultural history of Bengal. His navaratna (nine jewels) sabha still plays a significant role in the cultural development of Bengal. The cultural activities of Krishnachandra also had a huge impact on the architecture of the period. This period was marked with the construction of huge temples. The temples did not follow the traditional Bengali structure of Chala (sloped roof) or ratna (domes) but contained arches, spires and minars thus giving it an Islamic influence. Even traces of Gothic architecture is present in some of the temples. Also almost no terracotta decoration, which was the hallmark of all Bengal temples of that period, was found on these temples.

Shivniwas Today:

Sadly however only three of the 108 temples exist to this day, and one of them contains the largest Shiv Linga of Eastern India. The two Shiva temples along with a Ram Sita temple and the ruins of Krishnachandra’s palace are all that remains of Shivniwas’ glorious past.

Ram Sita Temple:

This is a brick temple with the walls covered with cement plaster, which was added later (see photo P3). On the eastern side of the temple complex lies the Ram Sita temple constructed in 1762. The temple is built on a 2.4m high platform and measures 12.8m m in length and 9.8m m in breadth, the extended balcony was probably added later on. The main structure is crowned by a char-chala (four-shaded) roof, topped with the square base structure, which again is crowned with a char-chala roof totaling up to a height of 15.2m. Unlike the traditional Bengali temple the cross-section of the top chalas are not triangular but bell shaped. The four corners of the square structure are provided with narrow long decorated minars, having significant Islamic influence. Five arches flank the entrance of the temple, while that of the garvagriha (inner sanctum) is marked with three, having remarkable resemblance with Gothic architecture. The bell shaped chalas, the Gothic arches and Islamic minars have given Ram Sita Temple of Shivniwas a unique place in Bengal architecture.


Ram Sita Temple, Shivniwas.

The temple contains the idols of Ram and Sita. The idol of Ram is made of stone and that of Sita is of astodhatu (8 metals). The idol of Ram is seated and is placed on a wooden throne while that of Sita is standing and is placed beside the throne. The statue of Ram is crowned on the head and has remarkable resemblance with Buddha. The temple also contains idols of several deities, including a stone image of Bishnu, probably found on the banks of Churni and dating back to the Pal age.

The temple was first restored by Birla Trust Fund in 1965-66 and although the pink paint appear totally out of place, the temple has more or less been well maintained. It is an active temple with Pujas and Bhogs offered regularly.

Ragniswar Temple:

THE RAGNISWAR IS A DIFFERENT NAME FOR SHIVA. Few yards to the west of the Ram Sita Temple lies the Ragniswar temple containing the 2.4m high Shiv Linga. Built in the same year as the Ram Sita Temple, the char-chala temple is built on a 1.2m high platform and has a square cross-section of side 8m. it is crowned with a narrow char-chala spire and reaches a total height of 18.4m. Three of the four sides of the temple are provided with arched gateways leading to the giant Shiv Linga. The fourth side has an identical closed arch. Sadly, the temple is in a sorry state, with trees growing all over the structure. In spite of all these the absence of paint gives it a somewhat authentic look.


Ragniswar Temple, Shivniwas.

Raj Rajeswar Temple:

On the western end lies the 120 feet (36.6m) high Raj Rajeswar Temple, locally called Buro Shiv’er Mandir (the Old Shiva Temple). Built in 1754 the temple has totally been reconstructed by Birla Trust Fund in 1965-66. (After that a number of restoration work was crried out by different trusts, however, giving more importance to reconstruction than restoration) and nothing remains of its 250 years old architecture. Built on an octagonal base of height 1.8m the eight vertical walls rise to a height of 5.3m and are topped with a long narrow spire totaling to a height of 24.4m. It is probably the highest temple of its period in West Bengal. Three of the eight sides are provided with Gothic arched gateways while the other five are provided with identical closed arches. The eight corners are provided with long, narrow decorated minars, thus giving it a unique place in Bengal architecture, which cannot be classified under any of the traditional classification of Bengal temples.


Raj Rajeswar Temple (Buro Shiv'er Mandir), Shivniwas.

Starting from the first restoration of 1965-66, the temple has been restored, or rather reconstructed, several times, the last one taking place in February 2006, when shabby looking iron railings were added to the octagonal platform. Today the cemented plastered temple, neither resembles the grace and beauty of the original structure and the yellow and pink paint looks totally out of place. Thus the 250 year old temple is totally reconstructed and thus in the process wiping out a piece of history from the face of the planet.

Although the outside of the temple has been totally modified into a modern structure, the inside of the octagonal temple remains the same. The Raj Rajeswar temple has the distinction of housing the largest Shiv Linga in Eastern India. Measuring 2.7m in height and 6.7m in circumference (including spout), the black stone Shiv Linga is definitely the star attraction of Shivniwas. At the back of the Linga a flight of stairs lead the devotees to a height of about 1m, thus allowing them to pour water on the giant linga.



Giant Shiv Linga at Raj Rajeswar Temple, Shiviwas.

Maharaja Krishnachandra’s Palace:

A dirt road connects the temple complex to the ruins of Krishnachandra’s Palace. The road goes past a phone booth and past several houses to a small clearing housing the remains of the royal palace. History describes the palace as a huge fort but nothing remains of this historical structure. Most part of the structure is buried underground and is covered with dense vegetation. Apart from a small roofless room nothing much is left of this historical structure and that too remains in a very sorry state. Most of the structure is inaccessible due to dense undergrowth but the walls of the accessible portion are used by locals to dry cow-dung cakes.


Ruins Maharaja Krishachadra's palace, Shivniwas.

Trip Tips:

It is best to take the morning Gede Local from Sealdha (departure 7:40am) and in about 2 hours and 45 minutes you will be in Machdia. A cycle van ride through tree-lined roads will take you to the banks of the river Churni. After crossing the river on a rickety bamboo and wood bridge follow the mud path to the temple complex.

Coclusion:

The blue board of Archeological Survey of India is nowhere to be found in Shivniwas. It is a pity that the historical sites are not maintained and are restored, or rather reconstructed, in a wrong way. But in spite of all odds Shivniwas can well give you a real insight in the architectural diversities of Bengal.

References:

• Nadia Jelar Purakirti by Mohit Roy edited by Amiya Bondopadhay and Sudhirranjan Das.
• Pashimbanga Bhraman O Darshan (part 1) by Bhupati Ranjan Das.
• Bhraman Sangi Weekend Tour (Travel Guide)
• Siter Mela, Bhraman (Travel Magazine) December 1994

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State Archeological Museum Exhibition

Collection of Dilip Kumar Maite

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Courtesy: Asad-uj Jaman
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Ambarish Goswami
Last Revised February 27, 2007